Government is nearing the end of negotiations with the US owner of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) as the country prepares to allow new operators into the telecoms arena.
Yesterday, to pave the way for the challenges, a new Chairperson of the all important Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the entity that regulates the industry, was sworn in with an upbeat administration insisting that things are happening.
Sworn in yesterday by President David Granger was experienced PUC director, attorney-at-law Dela Britton.
She has replaced Justice (Retd.) Prem Persaud, who retired this year after heading that entity for 27 years.
Close attention has been paid to the telecoms sector with both GTT and Digicel expected to remain big players.
GTT, since entering in the 90s, had a monopoly on landlines and international calls. Digicel then entered and is the main competitor in the mobile market.
A number of other investors have been expressing interest in entering the market but are being hindered by GTT’s licences which remains in force.
The telecoms legislations passed last year were key to allowing the new players that would wish to compete in especially the multi-billion dollar data and mobile market.
However, GTT and its US owner objected and insisted on negotiations before their licences could be broken.
According to Minister of Public Teleommunications, Cathy Hughes, while Government is unwilling to give a deadline date to end negotiations with Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), the US company which owns 80 percent of GTT; an end-of-July date is still being banked on.
Speaking to reporters at State House, shortly after Britton was sworn in, Hughes said that following the passage of key legislations last year August, President Granger had granted his assent, making it law new regulations for the industry.
There are few things happening in tandem. Included in the actions is the examination of the spectrum management process. A consultant is looking into this aspect, Hughes said. The examination will delve into pricing, among other things.
The ministry is also examining the skills needed at the telecoms authority and the National Frequency Management Unit (MFMU) which will be merged with the former.
The new legislations, said the minister, has brought challenges with several new requirements now that have to be met.
With regards to the negotiations with ATN, the minister said that it is “going well” as the process is a detailed one.
The negotiations are complex and also involve the Guyana Revenue Authority and the critical issue of pricing for spectrum or frequency.
Hughes stressed that the GRA is an independent agency which has an “impact” on the negotiations.
“GRA is a totally independent agency, so I can’t speak to those kinds of issues that the Commissioner-General (Godfrey Statia) is dealing with.”
She explained the outstanding issues delaying the negotiations include the spectrum pricing and the mechanisms for accepting new telecoms applications by the authority when it is operational.
Hughes said that while the date is set to the end of July to complete the process, it could go past that date, but not by much.
In short remarks, Britton said that she is ready to take on the role and hit the road running from today. She also said that while the PUC boasts “a dynamic group of professionals and the Commissioners have been there for some years” it would need to seek additional skills to execute its expanded mandate once the sector is fully liberalised, in keeping with the Telecommunications Act.
Britton said: “Our mandate, under the new regulations, will expand beyond what… is currently in place so… plans are afoot right now to have all the things in place before liberalisation would come into force.”
Also present at the ceremony were Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, and Permanent Secretary, Derrick Cummings.
According to Granger, over the last 27 years since its establishment, PUC has enforced a regime of regulation, which safeguards the public’s interest without jeopardising the economic sustainability of utilities.
“The availability of water, electricity and communication services are associated with a higher quality of life and a high standard of human and societal well-being, throughout the country and the reduction of inequality. These services also contribute to the creation of wealth, the generation of employment and the sustaining of livelihoods and the provision of a good life,” he said.
He noted that PUC is critical as it “regulates, investigates and enforces the provisions of the Public Utilities Commission Act; makes rules for the quality and standards of service to be maintained by a public utility and, in this regard, is empowered to initiate and conduct investigations into the operations and standards of service provided by any utility; ensures that public utilities provide adequate, efficient, non-discriminatory and safe services to the public [and] ensures that just rates are proposed, demanded and received by any public utility.”
He also applauded the service provided by the PUC and outgoing Justice Persaud during his tenure as Chairman.
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